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Giving Back With Eco-Friendly Receptions
Given that several high-profile Jewish celebrities expound on the virtues of their vegetarian diets and environmental charity involvements (among them, Natalie Portman and Alicia Silverstone), it was inevitable that eco-friendly activities, foods and fashion would appeal to a wide range of teens and young adults — even getting some of them to see green for their celebratory gatherings.
Sites like Green Mitzvot (www.greenbarmitzvahs.com), a testament to the green movement’s impact on teens nationwide, and Green Bride Guide (www.greenbrideguide.com) a one-stop shop for eco-friendly ideas and resources, help cut research time. They also provide comprehensive information on various essentials, ranging from party favors to reception supplies, food, formal clothing and details on planning a green ceremony in Israel.
With green being this year’s black, the operative question for families of teens and young couples is how investing in going green can make a meaningful difference for families and friends beyond the party itself. In theory, a green Bar or Bat Mitzvah, along with an appropriate mitzvah project, can reinforce the lessons and values of Hebrew school rather than be a potentially expensive fashion statement. The same goes for weddings. What can couples do to show they care about the world’s future as well as their own, beyond a great vegan (and kosher) buffet?
As the founder and CEO of the company Mazelmoments (mazelmoments.com), it is Cigall Goldman’s business, literally, to track major event planning trends for Jewish families. She stresses that green is becoming an essential part of the planning, rather than a minor aspect.
“We all have a responsibility to care for our planet, especially for future generations,” says Goldman. “Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and weddings are symbolically important — about becoming a man/woman or starting a family. With these auspicious occasions, where the emphasis is on new responsibilities and becoming ‘good’ adults, offering eco-friendly entertaining can be a perfect place to show your commitment to these new responsibilities. The way we dress is changing so much, too — considering what we wear at these events is also incredibly important.”
Goldman adds that her company is also working with couples who aren’t necessarily doing themed weddings but want to integrate eco-conscious practices into the overall party. “We are definitely seeing more requests for caterers who can provide kosher vegetarian and organic spreads,” she says. “While these cost a little more, people are willing to pay the higher price to know where their food is sourced from, supporting local farms and eating healthier.”
While Gene Blum at Drexelbrook Catering, a kosher caterer based out of Drexel Hill, agrees that a decidedly green spread for the wedding or B’nai Mitzvah is not always easy on the pocketbook, many of his client families are already on board, agreeing that going green is a shared responsibility that should be reflected in their celebrations. He says that children, teens and young adults can learn some valuable lessons about sustainability during the party planning process. He adds that Philadelphia’s Jewish families are at an advantage, thanks to an abundance of prime farmland and numerous conscientious farmers in the area.
“When you work with caterers who work with local farmers, you know immediately what’s going on at that farm, how the farmers are treating and cultivating the food, and what they are doing on their properties to be environmentally friendly or certified organic,” says Blum. “Furthermore, we are so lucky to be so close to Lancaster County, South Jersey, Bucks County and Chester County, all of which have great producers of kosher meats and/or produce. I even encourage clients, chefs and other vendors to spend some time on the local farms.”
Blum adds that beyond organic and vegetarian/vegan menus, his events have other compelling sustainable elements, including decorative items and platters made by local artists, centerpieces artfully constructed from flea market and “salvage art” finds, herb plant party favors guests can later plant in their gardens, and re-usable and portable bamboo wood dance floors.
As location becomes a more relevant part of the equation, venues like One Atlantic, a LEED-certified restaurant and event hall in Atlantic City, are also gaining momentum and popularity with increasingly discerning families. According to Elizabeth McGlinn, event director at One Atlantic, their venue and services are not just intended for the environmentally savvy, but also families just beginning to grasp the importance of socially and environmentally sound reception planning.
While One Atlantic has been doing green weddings since 2010, they are just beginning to break into the Bar and Bat Mitzvah market as word of mouth about their successful weddings has spread.
“When you are talking about being green, one thing parents want for their children is to promote a healthier life for them and the guests and a more sustainable world,” says McGlinn. “When the parent of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah child understands what is entailed in a green event and how it benefits everybody, they want to promote that in their children’s lives. Eco-friendly and environmentally sensitive entertaining ties into the responsibilities of being a good adult in that it sets a good example for the younger generation to follow.”
McGlinn agrees with Blum that using a caterer who features locally grown food is a desirable option.
“If bought directly from growers, food needs less time in the fridge and less packaging to stay fresh,” she says. “You’ll create less trash, and less electricity has to be used. Since the food is coming from a shorter distance, less fuel is needed to transport it. Also, choose in-season produce. Out-of-season fruits and veggies are grown in heated greenhouses. If you’re having a winter wedding, don’t serve summer favorites, like eggplant and zucchini, that must be grown in a greenhouse. Opt for winter squash, like acorn or butternut, and Brussels sprouts instead.”
McGlinn suggests that party favors are a great way to keep the message going after the party’s over, especially edibles and trinkets that won’t end up in landfills. She suggests heading to a local orchard for jars of jam or honey, packed in glass containers that guests may recycle or reuse after they’ve finished what’s inside. She also likes organic, pesticide-free chocolate from TheoChocolate.com, as well as seed packets and centerpieces of bamboo plants that can be split into separate plants guests can take home.
Recycled dresses and new garments made of reclaimed materials are also making a statement at Bat Mitzvahs and weddings. “It’s becoming increasingly important to consider the impact your celebration has on the environment,” says London-based dress designer Lucy Tammam (www.tammam.co.uk), whose eco-friendly dresses have been made available in this country via Philadelphia’s Bel Esprit Showroom (www.belesprit.net).
“It’s very easy to get carried away and indulge on so many decadent treats, but if you can consider each decision and try to, as much as possible, ensure everything you do is helping and not harming the environment, people and animals, you will be adding to the mitzvah as well as sending an important message to your guests,” Tammam continues. “Our most recent innovation is a handmade lace using British or cotton tulle and a peace silk yarn to create hand-embroidered laces, designed specifically for each client. As well as the eco-materials, the people doing the embroidery are paid fairly and given the opportunity to keep amazing artisanal skills alive.”
Back in Philadelphia, event planner Laura Eaton points out that the eco-theme trend has evolved in leaps and bounds over the past decade. Based on her observations, going green for events a few years ago used to mean recycled invitations and donating flowers after the reception. Today, families planning weddings and Bar Mitzvahs are starting to think further down the line about the overall impact of their event. Elements of today’s green events run the gamut from recycled wedding dresses and “vintage” Bar or Bat Mitzvah outfits to the careful selection of vendors that reflect an emphasis on the local economy and the environment.
“Planning an event with the environment in mind shows that you are thinking beyond just your own needs — you are caring for others and the world around you,” says Eaton. “With regards to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, growing up means that you start to take on more responsibility, and part of that is being more conscious of your actions and their impact. Everything we do is a reflection of who we are, so planning an event that takes the environment into consideration shows how much you have grown and matured.”
Elyse Glickman covers the green scene for Simchas. This article originally appeared in Simchas, a Jewish Exponent supplement.